I've spent hundreds of days shooting video while on the road, both domestically and internationally. During those travels, I've learned many valuable lessons. Here are 12 top travel tips that will help you make the most of your next photo or video journey:
1. Plan For Where You're Going
Where you go and how you get there determines how and what you pack. If you've never been to your destination before, assume and be prepared for the worst (weather, schedules, etc.). One of the keys to successful travel shooting is coming back with great photos or video even when things went wrong or not as planned. Planning ahead assures you and your equipment are safe and secure.
2. Pack and Wear Versatile Clothing
Being comfortable, functional and blending in are important when in a foreign country. Here are a few things to consider when packing your clothes:
Packing layers is better than packing for extreme conditions in most cases. If you can pack 4 different types of shirts (both long sleeve and short sleeve) that are smaller and weigh less than a coat, pack the shirts. Unless you know exactly what the weather will be like where you're going (which is often not easy), having the ability to add and subtract layers is important.
Some great brands for travel clothing I recommend:
3. Take Only What You Can Carry
The more suitcases, bags or cases you have, the more chances there are to lose or misplace one of them. If you can contain all of your personal items and gear to pieces that you can carry at one time, the better off you'll be.
I've lost a bag one time in my 15 years of traveling. I had one too many bags and ended up leaving my carry-on suitcase on a train with $5,000 in gear inside. By the time I realized I was missing a bag, the train was pulling out of the station.
A good rule to follow when packing is to use the 80/20 principle. Pack the 20% of gear that will get you 80% of the results you want. After that, you can add extra gear as you have room.
A great example of a 80/20 kit is 2 camera bodies, a 50mm lens, 4 batteries and 2 chargers. Throw in a Rode VideoMic for video recording and that will get you most of what you need in nearly every scenario.
4. Carry Your Essentials
A great goal is to never check a bag when you fly, but that's not always possible. If you have to check a bag, try not to pack anything essential in it. While it's not that common for checked bags to get lost or delayed, it could happen at the worst possible moment.
Pack everything you need to successfully shoot in your carry-on bags. This includes a camera, lenses, capture cards (SD, Compact Flash, etc.) and a couple of batteries and a charger. I also recommend carrying most or all of your toiletries and a few items of clothing. That way you can get through the entire trip if your checked bag never makes it.
5. Stay Away From Production Cases
Hard shell production cases are awesome for protecting your equipment. However, they also scream "expensive". It's hard not to stand out when you're carrying a case that looks like it contains plutonium. There are some great companies that make more conspicuous travel cases that I recommend in the Gear Section.
6. Take Enough Power
Depending on where you're traveling, you may not be able to charge batteries as often as you'd like. You also may not have the freedom to continually check a charger and swap batteries.
Taking plenty of batteries and chargers is crucial. Take 2 or more chargers and enough batteries to last a few days. Also pack surge protectors with plenty of outlets (spaced apart for larger battery chargers, if necessary) so you can plug everything in at once.
7. Backups Are Necessary
I always recommend taking a backup camera body when traveling away from home. Having a camera fail in the middle of your trip can ruin your shoot if you don't have a backup. Make room for a camera backup, even if it's a smaller camera with enough features to get you through.
Backing up your photos or videos is crucial, too. I recommend taking 2 backup hard drives and 1 other form of storage (SD cards, flash drives, etc.). Photos and video should be backed up every night to every drive. Each drive should be stored in a separate bag and often carried by multiple people if you're traveling in a group. Keeping your backups separated ensures that if one drive gets lost or damaged, you still have 2 other places where your media is stored.
8. Create A Routine
Every time I walk into a new hotel room, I go through the same routine. My bags go in the same place and the surge protector and chargers get plugged in immediately. I also do my best to live out of my bags, keeping all my clothes in or near my suitcase or bag, so I'm ready to move quickly if needed. When packing up, I make sure to be fully packed the night before I check out except for the clothes I'm wearing the next day and my toiletries. This way I'm not rushing to pack before leaving the hotel and I have time to double check my room for any forgotten items.
By having a routine, you create habits that will set you up for successful trips and eliminate lost or forgotten items along the way.
9. Don't Use The Hotel Room Safe
If you do any research, you'll find an almost perfect 50/50 split on whether you should keep your passport on you at all times or leave it in the hotel room safe. However, I know a lot of people that have forgotten passports, iPads, cash and other important items in their hotel room safes.
Therefore, I have chosen to never put anything in the hotel safe unless absolutely necessary. I have learned, especially in more corrupt countries, to not trust anybody (including hotel staff). Therefore, I carry my passport with me all the time. I put it in secure pockets in tactical pants or the front pocket of my jeans, which is less likely to be pick-pocketed than back pockets.
Whatever you choose to do is up to you more than me or anyone else. Know yourself and what works best for you. Just be sure to keep it consistent and make it part of your routine.
10. Always Use The "Do Not Disturb" Sign
As I said before, I don't trust anybody including the hotel staff. I've also known many people that have had items and bags stolen from their rooms while they were away. In some countries, hotel employees have been known to inform thieves of rooms that have items worth stealing and will sometimes even steal things themselves.
One way to eliminate any stolen items is to keep your "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door all day and deny any housekeeping services. Most hotels will respect the sign on the door, including housekeeping. If you stay more than a few days, you can always call housekeeping and have them deliver fresh towels or linens to your room while you're there.
If you do choose to allow housekeeping in your room, you can keep important and expensive items hidden and contained within your bags or suitcases. One great tip I've learned is to zip up your bag or suitcase and take a picture of it with your phone. That way you can compare the photo to your bag when you return to know if anyone has moved or opened it.
11. Lock Your Hotel Room When You Are Inside
I have a friend that was in a fairly corrupt country and was woken abruptly one night with a female prostitute standing next to his bed. I know, yikes! The women were given "master" key cards to get into all the hotel rooms. Now, I'm not saying a prostitute will show up in your hotel room in the middle of the night, but it's best to have some control of who enters or has access to your room while you're in it.
12. Be Flexible
I tell this to anybody that doesn't travel often, not just photographers or videographers. Take the travel problems as they come, because they always will be there. You will inevitably have a delayed flight. You will inevitably miss your connecting flight. It will rain hundreds of miles from where you are, but it will affect your flight for some reason. Hotels will lose your reservation even after you called to confirm it. Your cab driver will get lost. This is part of traveling.
You can choose to accept these parts of travel, or you can choose to let them get the best of you. Keep calm, think ahead and always plan for something to go wrong. Once you encounter an issue and find a way to fix it, all while keeping a smile, you've mastered the art of travel.
Bonus Tip: Carry Cash
It's always good to have some extra cash on you at all times. I recommend carrying at least $100 in the local currency and separating it into 3 groups. I keep around $40 on me at all times, another $40 in my backpack and the rest in my suitcase or additional bag. This assures that if cash is stolen, it likely won't all be stolen at the same time.
Another bonus tip: I always try to tip street performers or musicians before shooting footage or photos of them. It is part of an unspoken etiquette to do this and many performers get upset if you take a pic or video of them without tipping. You will find most people are more likely to give you great action and poses when you've tipped them, resulting in far better images.